Sealing fates

After Cloyce left the church the girls became highly agitated and claimed to have a vision of a large group of witches standing by a devil's church, with Cloyce and Sarah Good serving as deacons (church officials). Without hesitation the congregation accepted this vision as proof that members of their own community were working with the devil to destroy them. Cloyce and Proctor (who was pregnant at the time) were arrested shortly thereafter. They appeared in court on April 11 in the first case to be tried in Salem Town. The trials were elevated to celebrity status when six Massachusetts dignitaries traveled from Boston to Salem to serve as judges and observers in the proceedings. Among them were Thomas Danforth, the deputy governor, and court clerk Stephen Sewall's brother

Samuel Sewall, who kept an extensive diary of the trials (see biography and primary source entries). Danforth presided over the trials, showing even less skepticism about the girls' behavior than local residents who had known the girls prior to their fits. His attitude greatly boosted the girls' credibility and spread fear throughout Massachusetts. In a sense Danforth had put a stamp of approval on the girls and determined the outcome of the trials.

During Cloyce's trial Danforth interrogated John Indian (Tituba's husband), Mary Walcott, and Abigail Williams for evidence to be used against Cloyce. John Indian claimed he had been injured by both Proctor and Cloyce when they choked him and tried to force him to sign their witches' book. At this point, according to the court record quoted in The Salem Witch Trials, Cloyce stood up in the courtroom and screamed out in anger: "When did I ever hurt you?" John Indian calmly replied, "A great many times." When Abigail was asked about her visions she said she had seen about forty people gathered in a witches' Sabbath, where Cloyce and Good were acting as ministers of the devil. This was sufficient evidence to condemn Cloyce to death.

During Proctor's trial Danforth asked similar questions of the accusers. Yet none of the girls stepped forward to call Proctor a witch, and one of them even said, "I never saw her so as to be hurt by her." Then John Indian claimed that Proctor's specter had attempted to choke him. While the girls remained silent Danforth asked Proctor about John Indian's charge. She replied, "I take God in Heaven to be my witness that I know nothing of it, no more than the child unborn." Suddenly the girls became animated and declared that Proctor had tried to get them to sign the devil's book. In response to this new accusation she calmly maintained her innocence, hinting that the girls would later be judged by God for telling lies. At this point Abigail and Ann Putnam, Jr., went into severe fits, exclaiming that Proctor's specter was taunting them from the ceiling of the meetinghouse. As they writhed on the floor they shouted that the specter was being joined by the specters of John Proctor and two local women, Goodwife Bibber and Goodwife Pope. The Proctors, Bibber, and Pope were sent straight to the Boston jail. Another prisoner was Dorcas Good, Sarah Good's four-year-old daughter, who had apparently confessed to being a witch herself.

First Salem Trial

The first trial in Salem Town marked a significant change in the course of the witchcraft proceedings. The presence of Boston dignitaries, who served as judges and imposed harsh sentences, gave validity to both spectral evidence and the girls' fits as primary proofs of guilt. In addition, Chief Magistrate John Hathorne made a formal statement in court implying that the devil could not take the shape of an innocent person, ruling out any argument that the devil was simply tricking the community by inhabiting otherwise respectable citizens. Consequently, people had the power to accuse anyone they did not like or trust of being a witch simply by claiming that person's specter was tormenting them. Similarly, the girls could cast a shadow of guilt upon accused witches by going into fierce fits when in their presence. Acceptance of these two factors by the courts would have deadly consequences, as it became virtually impossible for the accused to prove their own innocence. Historians do not know for certain if the girls' fits were real, for their dramatic outbursts could have been inspired by actual fear of witches or by the prompting of their own spiteful relatives. After the first trial arrest warrants were issued with increasing rapidity for anyone remotely associated with the charges. Between April 1 1, 1 692 and the beginning of May, warrants were issued for Mary Easty, Edward and Sarah Bishop, Deliverance and William Hobbs, Sarah Wildes, Mary Black, Nehemiah Abbott, Jr., Mary English, and Reverend George Burroughs. This was just the beginning: as innocent people waited in shackles in filthy jail cells, their fates were sealed by the public outrage against witches that boiled above them in the streets and in the courtrooms.

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